I’m reading Mark Mazower‘s thorough and well-written book Inside Hitler’s Greece and was struck by his remark: “During the Second World War Greek poets would produce a body of work comparable in quality to the British war poetry of 1914-18. Two Nobel laureates, Seferis and Elytis, and other major poets… wrote some of their finest poems in those years.” Much as I love modern Greek poetry, I’ve been neglecting it lately, and this sent me back to my Collected Poems of Seferis. I thought about reproducing his wartime poem “The Figure of Fate” (Oct. 1, 1941), but it’s a bit long and depressing (“How did we fall, my friend, into the pit of fear./ It wasn’t your fate, nor was it decreed for me,/ we never sold or bought this kind of merchandise;/ who is he who commands and murders behind our backs?”). So instead I offer this gem from his last prewar collection, uncharacteristically tiny, a pure burst of lyricism.
Whether it’s dusk
or dawn’s first light
the jasmin stays
The translation (and the spelling) are by Keeley and Sherrard. Here’s the original (in transcription; dh = voiced th, as in “then”):